Gary Hart, James Woolsey: Oil Tied to Security

Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart (left), and former CIA director James Woolsey Tim Boyd / AP (left); AP

Give them time, and fossil fuels will likely wreak havoc on the planet's climate. But before that happens, the global oil trade will have a more immediate impact, likely making America more dependent on foreign dictators and autocratic regimes, and systematically reducing the U.S.'s foreign-policy options. The effect, say a growing number of foreign-policy veterans, could be a more fragmented world, one that's much less safe as a result. Former senator Gary Hart and former CIA director James Woolsey launched a speaking tour this month to underscore the connection between energy dependence and global security. Both spoke with NEWSWEEK's Daniel Stone about the growing threat, and why domestic development isn't the answer. Excerpts:

How would you characterize the link between energy policy and national security?

Gary Hart: I would encourage your readers to check out a Web site called These are retired senior officers in the military who draw a direct connection between changing climate and a threat to our international security. Another Web site for a whole lot of information is There you will find all kinds of resources documenting the connection between our national security and a changing climate.

So what's the key problem?

James Woolsey: The heart of the matter is oil. Coal is a problem from the point of CO2 emissions and pollution. But oil is a problem for those reasons and for reasons of national security, in that our billion dollars a day that we borrow to import oil finances institutions like the Saudi Wahhabi schools around the world that teach little boys murderous hatreds of Shiite Muslims, Jews, homosexuals, and apostates. Not to mention [hatred of] Americans, and the terrible oppression of women. And it helps fund murderous dictators around the world. We're paying for that, and it's nonsense. We need to stop using oil, not just imported oil but oil, period, in order to move away from that kind thing.

How, specifically, does that limit our foreign-policy options?

Woolsey: Look, I don't think President Obama would have bowed to the ruler of Saudi Arabia if he didn't have oil to the degree that the Saudis do. I think they and other producing states, almost all of whom, except Norway and Canada, are dictatorships or autocratic systems, have thrown their weight around because of oil. That creates national-security problems here.

Hart: And it's not just the current president. The U.S. has been bowing to the Saudis for decades now. We overlook their autocratic and undemocratic governments even though we're preaching democracy around the world. This isn't lost on the people of the world; they understand what's going on. America preaches democracy and yet supports autocratic regimes that are very undemocratic because we want or need their oil.

Is it the same case among our allies? That is to say, are other countries as limited in foreign policy because of their oil needs?

Woolsey: The world's democracies plus China are oil importers, and the world's autocratic and dictatorial states plus Canada and Norway are the exporters. So we have an institutional problem throughout the NATO alliance, along with our allies in Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, wherever, in which we are all dependent on oil imports, and the heart of the reserves is in the Middle East. And this affects our behavior in many ways. It affects our willingness to stand up to those autocratic countries. The only way to free ourselves is to move away from oil dependence.

Isn't one solution to simply increase U.S. development in order to rely less on unfriendly regimes?

Woolsey: That does not work. All that does is improve the balance-of-payment situation. If we improved our domestic production so 10 percent of our imports went away, then we'd only be borrowing $900 million per day rather than a billion dollars. It improves our balance of payments, but that's all it does, because the low-cost producers and the high-volume producers are in the Middle East. They run the cartel; they run the conspiracy called OPEC. So we only do a little bit. We need to move away from oil, period.

Hart: In terms of the impact of climate on our security, the fact of the matter is that we have to move to a post-carbon economy. We should have begun this 25, 30 years ago. If we had, we would be much more secure today, both economically and militarily. And it's not too late. The very basic facts of nature are going to require it.

Can either of you recall a time when you saw oil as a roadblock in foreign relations?

Photos: a timeline of the BP oil spill Mario Tama / Getty Images

Hart: Back in the 1970s, I proposed legislation that would tax imported oil by $10 a barrel. Now, that was 30 years ago. Few were listening at the time.

Woolsey: We should have listened to Gary then and should now.

And what about the more covert relations and operations we don't hear about?

Woolsey: Countries are effectively paid deference in direct and indirect ways if they're huge oil suppliers. We wouldn't put up with the sort of things that the Saudis try to preach to the world—the hatred they preach from the Wahhabi sect of Islam—if it weren't for oil.

Can you paint a picture of what we're facing if we continue on this same path of fossil fuels?

Woolsey: More wars in the Persian Gulf.

Hart: And more bowing to Saudi kings.